The first four ships shown here illustrate proposals for new generation square riggers, in which windward ability is an innovative and important feature.

This improvement over conventional rig has been amply validated since 2007 by “Pelican of London” the 2226 grt sail training vessel created by Commander Graham Neilson, RN. Retd., to a sail plan by the author, and the reason for adopting it is the greatly increased safety factor. Throughout maritime history, the inability to sail to windward effectively and the uncertainty in tacking have always been major components of sailing ship losses in close quarters, and even today with auxiliary engines it is known that a head wind of no more than 20 knots will bring a windjammer to a standstill due to windage. As opposed to this, the new arrangement of standing rigging, which allows the yards to be braced to within 18º of centreline instead of the conventional optimum of 34º, means that a modern ship could motor-sail under reduced rig on a course of 40º to the true wind, or under power alone, point 18º to the true wind with her yards feathered to zero angle of incicdence. Naturally the situations quoted refer to dire conditions in the proximity of danger and are not presented as an habitual option. In fair weather, a course of 35º to the true wind should be possible, while going about is as smooth and certain as on a bermudan sloop, because the operation is initiated from a close angle to the wind instead of from 60º off, and the ship consequently carries her way into the wind for a considerable distance.

Related blog sites are “Improving the sailing qualities of square rigged ships“ and “A sailing bulk carrier for today“.

In new sailing cruise ships these improvements should be mandatory, the more so since visual departures from traditional appearance are so slight that there is nothing to be lost by adopting them, and everything tobe gained. Any new square rigger with a sail plan copied from those in F.L.Middendorf´s definitive 1903 treatise “Bemastung un d Takelung der Shiffe” would nowadays be a serious mistake.

As regards propulsive efficiency on a windward course, square rig is surprisingly good. The luffs of square sails cut into clean air far ahead of the turbulence caused by the mast, so that the low aspect ratio is amply compensated by sheer area and by the fact that these ships are sailed at very small angles of heel.

Buque-escuela 94,3m

Buque-escuela 94,3m

94,5m weatherly S.T.V.

94,5m weatherly S.T.V.

95.3m three-masted STV based on Charles Nicholsin´s 1927 “Juan Sebastian De Elcano” minus the raised poop and forecastle for reduced windage and in consideration of smaller crews in the present day. Bracing of upper yards when on the wind is necessarily assisted by tightening the lee yard lifts to counter yardarm dip. The sister drawing shows a more conventional bracing arrangement for those who prefer it.

Buque-escuela 45,5m

Buque-escuela 45,5m

45m STV brig with accommodation for 53 souls and round bilge or multi-chine hull construction according to means.

41m L.O.D. weatherly brigantine

41m L.O.D. weatherly brigantine

41m brigantine for the many lovers of “eye of the wind”. Because the main topsail yard comes so close to centreline when on the wind,  the spanker gaff must be low enough to clear it.

3M Sail training Vessel

3M Sail training Vessel

30m bruig with capacity for 28 souls, once propiosed for South Africa´s Cape Windjammer Trust. For simplicity she has a high-deadrise single chine steel hull which on paper looks well up to the requirements of the stormy waters of the cape.




With thanks to Canadian yachtsman Lindsey Ross, who opened a new door for me.


These sailboats with a modern versi0n of square rig would be able to point to windward just as closely as those with Bermudan rig, and some would say, more impressively. With a little practice, crews should be able to tack them just as nimbly, too.

This is achieved very simply, by just rearranging the standing rigging so it won´t prevent the yards being swunbg round to the necessary wind angle. The validity of this rig has been confirmed since 2007 by the 226- G.R.T. sail training vessel Pelican of London, described in my blog Improving the Sailing Qualities of Square Rigged Ships.

On small boats like the two appearing here, all sails would be handled from deck. Something to be avoided is over-indulgence in traditional items of decoration or rig which might affect performance by adding top weight or windage. These boats have a minimum of strings, there are no yard lifts, footlines, clewlines, leechlines or massed buntlines and save in once case, no running sheets.

If anyone has questions on this subject please contact me on pgoodeamrina@gmail.com and I´ll be glad to help without any charge. Only don´t expect too much, your correspondent is a great-grandfather with very reduced eyesight, so you should check out everything I say for yourself.


25 foot Day Sailer


Yards must be able to swivel until 18.5º from boat´s centreline before coming into contact with any item of stansing rigging. This implies anchoring the masthead backstays unusually far aft. On the deck plan this 3-point bracing of the masthead appears to leave an impossibly large sector unsupported between forestay and backstay, which is why
traditional square-riggers would never have won prizes for windward ability; in practice, however, it gives all the support needed.

Fore shrouds (if size of rig requires thee), are not anchored at the decledge but considerably further inboard, so they won´t indent the foot of the Course when close hauled. Their angle to the mast should not exceed 15º-17º. If you can´t have a Neilson stay to counter the shrouds, this can also be done by means of a Sky Link, as described in the associated blog referred to above.

It is absolutely necessary that yards on each mast should swivel around a common axis, if seripus twisting of the sails at extreme bracing angle is to be avoided. For this reason, masts carrying more than one square sail should be pole masts, or plain marine alloy tubes. Slinging each yard on a hoop circling the mast would ensure a common axis. This hoop would have an eye for the halliard, and some form of closeable hook for the yard to hang on, it being posible to unhook the yard for maintenance.

If mast height calls for shrouds and a Neilson stay, note that this latter fastens to the mast at a point just below the lower yard. This kind of staying imposes conditions on the forward accommodation: there must be bulkheads or such to counter the pull of the shrouds, and the Neilson stay must be prolonged below deck by a tierod to the top of the stem.

Lead between the sails´ centre of effort and the centre of lateral resistance should be 8%-10% of waterline length. The Main Staysail is not included here since it would not normally be set on a course extremely close to the wind.

Mast spacing: when there are square sails on both masts, the air gap between sails on one and the other masts when close hauled should not be less than 1/3 of the mean width of the sail in front. This is to avoid turbulence affecting the sail, or stack of sails, which follows, and which can reduce their thrust to zero, if ignored.

Square sails should be cut much flatter than those of traditional “windjammers”, with camber no more than 2% length of head and leeches. Also cutting the foot in an arc should be done with moderation since this reduces efficiency if it leaves a large gap when there is a sail underneath. A foremast head stay must always go to the stem head, to hold the mast in the evnt of bowsprit wipeout.

As regards general appearance, Scale Effect must always be kept inperspective: for instance, setting the feet of sails too closet to the deck will make the rig look dwarfed when the crew stand up.




The Fore Staysail is roller furling. (Beware mini-jibs, in this small scale all they do is mess up the airflow into the system). No yard lifts fitted, horizontal yard angle gets controlled by braces.

When going about through the wind, these yachts should be pointed really close, and then put about firmly, going through the wind under their inertia as the yards are quickly swung about. With all braces looed off, it should only be necessary to haul on the lower brace.


A day sailer with am 8-ft long cockpit and a shelter cabin with 5-ft headroomn. Sail area 310 sq.ft., ex Main Staysail. Shrouds are not necessary on this foremast, hence the Course foot can benefit from the convenience of handling of a Bentinck boom, a late 19th Century innovation to reduce labour.

Both squares are on running yards, each with a halliard to masthead, and sheeted directly to yardarms with short lanyards. Halliards lead through a turning-block at mast foot, to within reach of cockpit. To furl either, bring both sails down to deck.

Halliards for Gaff Mainsail both go to masthead, leaving mast free for Topsail yards to run on. The Topsail lowe yard dowbnhaul doubles as halliard for Main Staysail. To furl Topsail, the gaff is temporarily lowere to deck. Main shrouds go to masthead, being pinched in towards each other by a linking wire located just below the Topsail lower yard, allowing yard to swing to18.5º In order to avoid a too-narrow shroud angle to mast here, the lower yard slide fitting has a small extension which sets the yard slightly off from the mast.


A bot with cruising capability and 6-ft cabin headroom. Sail area, 460 sq.ft. ex Maim Staysail Foremast has Neilson stay and shrouds, as well as the 3-point masthead sraying. Note that shrouds are anchored well inboard of deck edge. The Course yard is a standing one, (removable for maintenance), the other two are on running yards, each with a halliard to masthead.

Topsail and Topgallant sails both have light, full width battens to limit flogging when furling, which is done by a continuous spiral-rigged buntline each side of sail, twinned into one (initial) furling line which is led to within reach of cockpit.


When fully furled this has the effect of drawing the two upper yards together, so for best appearance at anchor, they could be displayed thus closed-up and hoisted midway up mast above the course yard. This would mean the Topsail having running sheets, led to cleats at mast foot. To avoid having to go forward into the eyes of the ship each time she tacks, the Course has continuos sheets (one each side) which lead through a block at the extreme bow, each end of this loop being made fast to the same one of the two clew/tack cringles. The Course furls like a window curtain, hanging on slides from a track on yard´s underside or on rings along a rod or tubular yard. The endless drawstrings to close-open the sail would also be led aft. To complete furling, a line hanging loose from the middle of the yard would be wound spirally around the folds of sail.

The sheet and tack of the Main Lug-Topsail are short lanyards to the Main gaff. To strike the Topsail both sails must temporarily come down, and in a freshening wind this would be a good time to reef the Mainsail before re-hoisting.

The main topmast is bolted firmly to the head of the lower mast, and not “fidded”.

Palma de Mallorca, Spain
December 2016